February 4, 2013
Arguably the greatest architect of Regency London, John Nash’s imprint can still be seen in numerous sites around the city, from the master-planning of Regent’s Park and Regent Street to the beautiful buildings of All Soul’s Church in Langham Place and Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park.
Born the son of a Welsh millwright in Lambeth, London, on 18th January, 1752, Nash – who went on to work in a range of different architectural styles – trained as a draughtsman under the tutelage of architect Sir Robert Taylor and in 1777 established his own business as a builder and surveyor.
But he certainly didn’t meet with immediate success and, following failure as a building speculator (he built properties in Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street but failed to make enough money from the venture – there’s a blue plaque on one of the houses, which he lived in, at 66 Great Russell Street), was declared bankrupt in 1783.
Meanwhile, his personal life was also in turmoil during these years – in 1775 he had married, Jane Kerr, the daughter of a Surrey surgeon, but separated from her in the early 1780s after various troubles including her eventually apparently having a child with a Welshman named Charles Charles, who is said to have died in prison after he was jailed for adultery.
Brought down by his misfortune, in the mid 1780s Nash moved to Carmarthen in Wales where he had family. Taking up work here, by the late 1780s he was designing prisons – the first was at Carmarthen – and worked on a number of other prominent buildings including St David’s Cathedral and various country houses.
Rising to prominence in Carmarthen society, by 1797, however, Nash was again working in London, initially in partnership with the renowned landscape architect Humphrey Repton with whom he had formed a business relationship some years earlier (although the partnership had soured over finances by 1800).
He built a substantial home at 29 Dover Street in Mayfair and in 1798, his first wife presumably dead, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Bradley, and soon started work on building a Gothic-inspired residence for them, known as East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was completed in 1802 but enlarged some years later.
Nash designed numerous country properties in the early 19th century, inspired by everything from castles to Italianate architecture, both in England and Ireland and soon came to the attention of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (there was a rumour his wife was one of the prince’s discarded mistresses).
In 1806 he was officially made Deputy Surveyor General in the Office of Woods and Forests – the office which managed the Crown estate, and from 1815 on, he largely worked for the prince alone. Among the major London commissions from his royal patron were the design of Regent Street (he and his wife moved into number 14 in 1823) and the development of Regent’s Park on land formerly known as Marylebone Park and surrounding housing estates (for more on The Regent’s Park, see our earlier entry here). He also redeveloped St James’s Park.
In 1815, he was commissioned to develop the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion in Brighton and by 1822 had transformed the building into the spectacular Royal Pavilion which can be visited there today.
Nash was also involved in the development of The Regent’s Canal – which linked the Grand Union Canal in London’s west to the River Thames in London’s east and was completed in 1820 – and built many of the grand villas which still line it (for more on Regent’s Canal, see our earlier entry here).
Becoming an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813 (an appointment which only ended in 1832, three years before his death), Nash went on to design churches – including All Soul’s in Langham Place (he’s depicted above in a bust at the church) – as well as West End theatres including the Haymarket Theatre and the Royal Opera House (which burnt down in 1867) as well as the adjacent Royal Opera Arcade and residences including Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House (for more on this, see our earlier entry here).
Other major commissions included the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace (parts of the current building are his work but the main facade isn’t – for more on the palace history, see our earlier entry here) and the Royal Mews, and the creation of Marble Arch, originally envisaged as the main gateway to the palace (see our earlier entry here). Nash also designed a conservatory for Kew Gardens.
Nash’s close relationship with the Prince Regent (who become King George IV on 29th January, 1820), meant that when the king died in 1830, he found himself on the outer (and his reputation took many years to recover thanks to his association with the unpopular king). With no knighthood forthcoming for his efforts (unlike many of his contemporaries) and the chance of further work unlikely (his work on Buckingham Palace had been left unfinished due to concerns over rising costs), Nash retired to his house on the Isle of Wight.
He died there on 13th May, 1835, and was buried in the churchyard at St James’s Church in East Cowes. He was survived by his wife who, having settled his debts, retired to Hampstead.
For an in-depth study of Nash, try Geoffrey Tyack’s book, John Nash: Architect of the Picturesque.
Around London – Of foundling tokens; a French field marshal’s grave marker; behind the scenes at Royal Albert Hall; Tom Daley’s swimming trunks; and, crime fiction at the British Library…
January 24, 2013
• A new exhibition opens at the Foundling Museum tomorrow (25th January) which tells the often heart-breaking stories behind the tokens left by mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital between 1741-1760. While hundreds of tokens were removed from the hospital’s admission files in the 1860s, Fate, Hope & Charity reunites the tokens – which range from coins and jewellery to playing cards, poems and even a nut – with the foundlings to whom they were given. A moving exhibition. Museum admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• The Duc and Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville were among those who attended the dedication of a ledger stone marking the grave of their kinsman, Field Marshal Francois de La Rochefoucauld, the Marquis de Montendre, at Westminster Abbey last week. Born in 1672, de La Rochefoucauld served in the British Army during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II after fleeing France as a Huguenot refugee (he had also succeeded his brother as marquis). He was promoted to field marshal in 1739 but died later that year and was buried in the abbey. The floor stone which was replaced by the new ledger stone will be sent to France for inscription and installation at Montendre. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
• One we should have mentioned with our piece on Royal Albert Hall last week. The Royal Albert Hall is running behind the scenes tours of the venue every Monday until 11th February as well as Tuesday 29th January (so you’ll have to be quick!). The tour – which runs as an extension of the front of house tour – takes in the loading bay located under the hall and one of the many dressing rooms (currently in use by Cirque de Soleil who are in residency with their new show KOOZA. The 90 minute Behind the Scenes tours cost £16. Booking in advance is strongly recommended. For more, see www.royalalberthall.com.
• A pair of swimming trunks worn by diver Tom Daley during the 2012 Olympic Games has been donated to the Museum of London. The trunks join an ever increasing collection of Olympics and Paralympics-related outfits in the museum with others including a leotard worn by bronze-medal winning gymnast Beth Tweddle. A display featuring the Olympic kit is being planned for spring. Meanwhile, still aty the museum and an exhibition featuring a series of photographs exploring the city’s major arterial roadways opens on Saturday. The free exhibition, Highways: Photographs by John Davies, features six specially commissioned photographs taken by Davies in 2001-02 – just prior to the introduction of the Congestion Charge in 2003. Routes featured include the Elephant and Castle roundabout, the Hammersmith Flyover, Marble Arch and Hyde Park, St Pancras Station Midland Grand Hotel and the A501, the junction of Poultry and Queen Victoria Street and the Blackwall Tunnel entrance. Runs until 16th June. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.
• On Now: Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction. This exhibition at the British Library looks at the history of crime fiction and features never-before-seen manuscripts, printed books, rare audio recordings, artworks and artefacts. Highlights include Arthur Conan Doyle’s manuscript of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Retired Colourman (1926); the first appearance in print of Miss Marple (in Royal Magazine in 1929); John Gielgud’s annotated script for the film Murder on the Orient Express, crime novels from unlikely authors including Pele and burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee and the 1933 book, the Jigsaw Puzzle Murders in which readers had to complete a jigsaw puzzle to solve the crime. A series of events will be taking place alongside the exhibition. Entry to the library’s Folio Society Gallery is free. Runs until 12th May. For more see www.bl.uk.
Around London – Celebrating the City; Syon Park dig; Westminster’s rubbish; and, 1000 years of British literature…
June 21, 2012
• The City of London today kicks off Celebrate the City – four days of mostly free music, art and cultural events.The events include musical performances in many of the City’s churches, walks and talks at various locations around the Square Mile, new exhibitions including Butcher, Baker, Candlestock Maker – 850 years of Livery Company Treasures at the Guildhall Art Gallery, Livery Hall and historic building openings, family entertainment at the Cheapside Street Fayre at Saturday (including free ice-cream and tuk-tuk rides for children) and activities at the Barbican Centre and the Museum of London. The celebrations start in Guildhall Yard (pictured) at 6pm tonight when musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama perform Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with firing cannons. Among the many other highlights will be the chance to play golden street pianos, to join in the Midsummer street part at the climax of the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, to enjoy a sunset from the Tower Bridge walkways and to see the transformation of St Helen’s Square into a sculpture space. The weekend will also host the Open House Junior Festival, London’s first ever child-friendly City architecture festival. To see detailed listings of what’s on, head to www.visitthecity.co.uk/index.php/celebrate/.
• The Museum of London will next week launch its annual community and training dig at Syon Park in Hounslow. The dig, which will be open to school and community groups, will run from 25th June to 7th July and will focus on the area of Sir Richard Wynne’s house. A Parliamentarian, in 1659 he was implicated in a Royalist insurrection and was imprisoned. The house, which featured in the Battle of Brentford when Royalist troops advanced on Parliamentary forces in London in 1641, was later purchased by the Duke of Northumberland and demolished to extend Syon’s parkland. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• We couldn’t resist mentioning this one: Westminster City Council has released a top 10 list of the strangest objects people have dumped on London’s streets. They include an inflatable Margaret Thatcher and other inflatable dolls, wedding dresses, stuffed animals and a range of film props. The council say that, on average, enough litter is picked up off Westminster’s streets every two days to fill the entire 864 cubic metres of Marble Arch. They add that if just half of the annual waste collected off the street is recycled properly in the correct bins it would save them nearly £1million.
• On Now: Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands. The major summer exhibition at the British Library, it explores how the last 1,000 years of English literature have been shaped by the country’s places. The exhibition features more than 150 works with highlights including John Lennon’s original lyrics for The Beatles’ song In My Life, JK Rowling’s handwritten draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JRR Tolkein’s original artwork for The Hobbit and original manuscripts from the likes of Jane Austen, William Blake, Charlotte Bronte, Arthur Conan Doyle, JG Ballard and Charles Dickens. As part of the exhibition, the Library is inviting people to “Pin-a-Tale” on an interactive map of Britain, that is, take a literary work and pin it on the map along with a description of how the work links with that particular location – head to www.bl.uk/pin-a-tale to take part. The exhibition runs until 25th September. Admission fee applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.
April 27, 2012
Originally installed as a grand entrance to Buckingham Palace, John Nash’s arch was moved to its current location, what is now effectively a traffic island not far from Speaker’s Corner in nearby Hyde Park, in 1851.
The story goes that this took place after it was discovered that the arch was too narrow for the widest of the new-fangled coaches but there are some doubts over this, particularly as the gold state coach passed under it during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952. Another story says that it was moved after extensions to Buckingham Palace left insufficient space for it.
Work on the arch had started at Buckingham Palace in the mid 1820s and it was completed by 1833. It was originally moved to replace Cumberland Gate as the new entrance to Hyde Park and to complement Decimus Burton’s arch at Hyde Park Corner. Successive roadworks in the 20th century, however, left it in its current position.
Clad in Carrara marble, the design of the arch was inspired by Rome’s Arch of Constantine and the Arc do Carrousel in Paris. The sculptural ornamentation, which includes works by Sir Richard Westmacott and Edward Hodges Baily, however, was apparently never completed and an equestrian statue of King George IV, originally destined for the top of the arch, instead now stands in Trafalgar Square. The bronze gates – which bear the lion of England, cypher of King George IV and image of St George and the Dragon – were designed by Samuel Parker.
Only senior members of the Royal family and the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery are permitted to pass under the central arch of the monumental structure.
The arch stands close to where the Tyburn Tree once stood (for more on this, see our earlier post). It contains three small rooms which, up until the 1950s housed what has been described as “one of the smallest police stations in the world”.
There was some talk in 2005 that the arch would be moved to Speaker’s Corner but this obviously hasn’t eventuated.
Around London – Cutty Sark reopens; Genghis Khan at Marble Arch; New theatre for the West End; and, Shakespeare’s cash…
April 26, 2012
• The Cutty Sark, the world’s last surviving 19th century tea clipper, reopens to the public today following a £50 million, six year conservation project. The project to restore the Greenwich-docked ship has involved raising it more than three metres so visitors can walk underneath and see for themselves the sleek lines which helped the vessel set a then record-breaking speed of 17.5 knots or 20mph in sailing from Sydney to London. As well as raising the ship three metres, the project has involved encasing the ship’s hull in a glass casing to protect it from the weather – this area also contains the museum’s extensive collection of more than 80 ships’ figureheads, never been seen in its entirety on the site. The ship’s weather deck and rigging, meanwhile, have been restored to their original specification and new, interactive exhibitions on the vessel’s history have been installed below deck. Originally launched in 1869 in Dumbarton, Scotland, Cutty Sark visited most major ports around the world, carrying cargoes including tea, gunpowder, whiskey and buffalo horns and made its name as the fastest ship of the era when carrying wool between Australia and England. The ship became a training vessel in the 1920s and in 1954 took up her current position in the dry dock at Greenwich before opening to the public. In November 2006, the ship’s rig was dismantled in preparation for a restoration project – this received a setback on 21st May, 2007, when a fire broke out aboard the ship and almost destroyed it. The ship – which was officially reopened by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured) yesterday - is now under the operational management of the umbrella body, Royal Museums Greenwich. For more (including the online purchasing of tickets), see www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark or www.cuttysark.org.uk. PICTURE: National Maritime Museum, London.
• A large statue of Genghis Khan has invaded Marble Arch. The 16 foot (five metre) tall sculpture of the Mongolian warlord, created by artist Dashi Namdakov, was erected by Westminster City Council as part of its ongoing City of Sculpture festival which is running in the lead-up to the Olympics. The statue has sparked some controversy – Labour councillors at Westminster have reportedly suggested Dambusters hero Guy Gibson would be a more suitable subject for a statue than the warlord Khan. The Russian artist, who has an exhibition opening at the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair next month, told the Evening Standard he simply wanted to honor Khan on the 850th anniversary of his birth.
• Development of a new West End theatre, the first to be built in the area in 30 years, has been given the green light. The new 350 seat theatre will be part of a development project located between Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street which will also feature office and retail spaces. The site was occupied by a pickle factory in the 19th and 20th centuries and from 1927 was the home of the Astoria cinema, remodelled as a live venue in the 1980s. Live music was last presented there in 2009 when the site was compulsorily acquired for the Crossrail project.
• On Now: Crowns and Ducats: Shakespeare’s money and medals. This exhibition at the British Museum explores the role of money in Shakespeare’s world and looks at how coins – a frequently recurring motif in Shakespeare’s work – and medals were issued to mark major events. Objects in the display include Nich0las Hilliard’s ‘Dangers Averted’ medal of Elizabeth I and William Roper’s print of the Queen, the first to be signed and dated by a British artist, as well as a money box such as might have been used at the Globe and a hoard of coins, including a Venetian ducat, deposited in Essex around the time of Shakespeare’s birth. Almost every coin mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays will be on show – from ‘crack’d drachmas’ to ‘gilt twopences’. Runs until 28th October in room 69a. Entry is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
October 12, 2011
The fourth in a line of parks stretching from Kensington Palace to Westminster, St James’s Park largely owes its foundation to King James I.
Given its early history is covered in our earlier post, we’ll skip forward to the time of King Charles II when, under to instruction of Frenchman Andre Mollet, the park was redesigned with new landscaping including wide lawns, avenues of trees and a wide, centrally positioned canal. It was King Charles II who also opened the park up to the public (he even mingled with them there along with his mistress Nell Gwynn). Interestingly the first pelicans were also introduced to the park around this time when the Russian ambassador presented a pair of pelicans to the king.
In the 18th century, Horse Guards Parade was added to the park by filling in one end of the park’s canal and was later used for parades. The ceremonies of Beating Retreat and Trooping the Colour are still held there today.
The next major changes came in the 19th century when in 1827-28, architect John Nash oversaw a more romantically inspired renovation, including the transformation of the canal into a natural looking lake and the addition of winding paths, as part of his grand scheme which still shapes much of London today.
It was also at this time that The Mall (which like Pall Mall takes it name from the game of Pelle Melle – see our earlier post) was transformed into a grand processional route (it was opened to traffic later, in 1887). The park, bounded to the west by Buckingham Palace, also takes in the Queen Victoria Memorial – completed in 1914 to replace the Marble Arch which was moved to its current location at the corner of Oxford Street and Park Lane in 1851 – and flower beds which are planted annually with 12,000 geraniums, the color of which is chosen to match the guardsmen’s tunics.
Meanwhile, in 1837, the Ornothological Society of London erected a cottage for the birdkeeper (the thatched cottage can still be seen there today and the post of birdkeeper still exists). The first bridge was placed across the lake in 1851 (and replaced in 1951 with the one that now stands there).
Little has changed in the 23 hectare (58 acre) park since Nash’s day. Newer facilities include a restaurant and a playground at the western end.
WHERE: St James’s Park (nearest tube station is St James’s Park); WHEN: 5am to midnight daily; COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/St-Jamess-Park.aspx
PICTURE: © Anne Marie Briscombe (courtesy Royal Parks)
April 26, 2011
Following the wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Friday, the now married happy couple will head in a carriage via a processional route down The Mall to Buckingham Palace.
There, they will enjoy a champagne reception with 600 guests hosted by the Queen before, at 1.30pm, appearing on the balcony of the palace to wave to the crowds and watch an aircraft flypast expected to include a Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane, two Typhoons and two Tornados.
Buckingham Palace, which has served as the official London residence of the reigning monarch since 1837, has a long tradition of hosting royal events. Then much smaller and known as Buckingham House, the property was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1705.
It passed into royal hands when it was bought by King George III in 1761 for his wife, Queen Charlotte, to use as a family home located conveniently close to St James’s Palace where many court functions were held.
The house was extensively remodelled in 1762 and again, this time on the orders of King George IV, in the 1820s (after initially wanting to use it, like his father, as a family home, the king decided after the works had started to instead transform it into a palace, created to the designs of architect John Nash).
When King George IV died in 1830, his brother King William IV ordered the works to be continued albeit with a new architect, Edward Blore (the spiralling costs of Nash’s work are said to have cost him the contract). The king himself never lived in the house – even offering at at one stage as a seat for Parliament after the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834 – and it wasn’t until the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 that the palace became the sovereign’s official residence.
Further works were subsequently needed to ensure there was adequate accommodations for the Queen’s family and it was during these works that the monumental Marble Arch – designed as the centrepiece of the palace’s courtyard – was moved away to its present location on the north-eastern corner of Hyde Park.
The palace, which now boasts 775 rooms including 19 staterooms, has since been the site of numerous royal wedding receptions – it was on the balcony where Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, greeted crowds on 20th November, 1947, after their wedding in Westminster Abbey and, similarly, where Prince William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, held a reception before greeting crowds on 29th July, 1981, after their ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Buckingham Palace was also the location for Queen Victoria’s wedding breakfast following the ceremony in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace on 10th February, 1840.
February 11, 2011
The most notorious of London’s many prisons, Newgate remained in use for more than 700 years.
The prison – located on the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey on the site of what is now London’s Central Criminal Court (known as the Old Bailey thanks to its position on the street known as Old Bailey) – was apparently first constructed around the end of the 1100s on the orders of King Henry II at the site of one of the gates in the Roman wall (see picture).
It was enlarged and renovated several times over the ensuing centuries (including a complete rebuilding after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and another to the design of George Dance after the prison was badly damaged during the Gordon Riots of 1780, sparked by opposition to Catholic emancipation).
The prison, which was infamous for the squalid conditions in which prisoners were housed, was used for a range of purposes including housing debtors and the incarceration of people awaiting execution (by the 18th century, it’s said that more than 350 crimes had become punishable by death).
In 1783 public executions were moved from Tyburn, west of the city, to a site just outside the prison. In 1868, executions were no longer open to the public at large and the gallows moved inside. The prison closed in 1902 and was eventually demolished in 1904.
Famous prisoners who spent time in Newgate include Shakespeare’ contemporary Ben Jonson (for killing a man in a duel), 17th century author Daniel Defoe (for his authorship of political pamphlets), Captain William Kidd (for piracy), and William Penn, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania (for contempt of court during a case brought after he was accused of having illegally preached ).
But perhaps the most infamous is the 18th century criminal Jack Sheppard, known for having escaped from the prison several times before finally being hanged at Tyburn (close to where Marble Arch now stands).
The only surviving part of the prison in its original location is part of the prison wall which can be seen in Amen Corner.
December 29, 2010
The giant jelly baby family, created out of resin by Italian artist Mauro Perucchetti, stand in recent snow at Marble Arch. The family, the largest of which stands 10 foot (three metres) tall, is on display as part of Westminster Council’s City of Sculpture initiative which seeks to highlight Westminster’s cultural diversity in the run-up to the Olympics.